Home > First Drop of Crimson (Night Huntress World #1)

First Drop of Crimson (Night Huntress World #1)
Author: Jeaniene Frost

Prologue

New Year's Eve, one year before

Even though they were in the basement, Denise could still hear the sounds of battle outside. She didn't know what had attacked them, but they couldn't be human, not for Cat to look so scared when she'd ordered them downstairs. If she was frightened, then they should all be afraid.

Crashing noises above made Denise gasp. Randy's arm tightened around her. "It'll be okay."

His face said he believed otherwise. So did Denise. But she smiled, trying to convince her husband she believed the lie, if only to make him feel better.

His arm eased off her. "I'm going upstairs to help look for it."

It was the object that had drawn these creatures, whatever they were, to this house in the middle of icy nowhere. If it could be found and destroyed, the attack would stop.

Five years ago, Denise wouldn't have believed in vampires, ghouls, or objects possessing supernatural powers. Now because she'd chosen to spend the New Year with her half-vampire best friend in a house filled with things the average person didn't believe in, she and Randy would probably die.

"You can't go up there, it's too dangerous," Denise protested.

"I won't go outside, but I can help look in the house."

Denise knew finding it was the only chance any of them had. "I'll go with you."

"Stay here. The kids are scared."

Denise looked to the faces huddled in the far corner of the basement room, eyes wide with fear. Former runaways or homeless kids who lived with the vampires, their rent paid in blood donations. The only other adult in the room was Justina, and even her normally imperious expression was tremulous.

"I'll stay," Denise said at last. "Be careful. Come right back if those things get any closer."

Randy gave her a quick kiss. "I will. Promise."

"I love you," she called out as he flung open the door.

He smiled. "Love you, too."

He went out the door and Denise locked it behind him. It was the last time she saw Randy alive.

Chapter One

"I think Amber was murdered."

Denise gaped at her cousin. She was well into her third margarita, but she couldn't have misheard him. Maybe we shouldn't have gone to a bar after the funeral. Still, Paul had said he wasn't up to sitting another shiva. His mother and sister had just died within a month of each other. If getting a drink made Paul feel better, who cared what they were supposed to do?

"But the doctors said it was her heart."

"I know what they said," Paul growled. "The police didn't believe me, either. But the day before she died, Amber told me she thought she was being followed. She was twenty-three, Denise. Who has a heart attack at twenty-three?"

"Your mother just died of a heart attack," Denise reminded him softly. "Heart disease can be hereditary. It's rare for someone as young as Amber to have heart problems, true, but your sister was under a lot of stress - "

"No more than me now," Paul cut her off bitterly. "You saying I might be next?"

The thought was so awful Denise didn't even want to contemplate it. "I'm sure you're fine, but it wouldn't hurt to get checked out."

Paul leaned forward, glancing around before he spoke. "I think I'm being followed, too." His voice was barely a whisper.

Denise paused. For months after Randy's death, she'd thought every shadow was something sinister waiting to pounce on her. Even over a year later, she still hadn't totally managed to shake that feeling. Now her aunt and her cousin had died within a month of each other, and Paul also seemed to think death loomed right behind him. Was that a normal part of the grieving process? To feel that when death took someone close to you, it was coming after you next?

"Do you want to stay at my house for a few days?" she asked. "I could use the company."

Actually Denise preferred being alone, but Paul didn't know that. The careful investing Randy had done disappeared in the stock market crash, leaving her with just enough to bury him and to put a down payment on a new home, away from most of her family. Her parents meant well, but in their concern, they'd tried to take over her life. At work, Denise kept herself distant from her co-workers, and the seclusion had helped this past long, hard year as she dealt with Randy's death.

Still, if staying with her helped Paul through the initial shock of his double loss, she'd gladly give up her solitude.

Her cousin looked relieved. "Yeah. If that's okay."

Denise signaled for the bartender. "Of course. Let's head to my house before I have any more drinks. You've already had too many, so we'll take my car and pick up yours in the morning."

"I can drive," Paul argued.

Denise glared at him. "Not tonight."

Paul shrugged. Denise was glad he didn't fight it. She'd hate herself if Paul got in an accident after going out drinking with her. Aside from her parents, he was the closest family she had left.

She took care of the check over Paul's objections and they went out into the parking lot. After that incident three months ago, Denise made sure to park in a well-lit area as close to the bar's entrance as possible. As a further precaution, even though Paul walked with her, she kept her hand on the repellent spray dangling from her key chain. She had two of those; one filled with pepper spray, the other with silver nitrate. Humans weren't the only ones who liked to attack at night.

"The guest room is small, but there's a TV in it," Denise said as they reached her car. "You want to - "

Her voice cut off in a scream as Paul was jerked back, a man appearing out of nowhere behind him. Paul tried to scream, too, but an arm tight across his throat prevented him. The stranger's eyes seemed to burn as they looked from Denise to her cousin.

"Another one," he hissed, placing his fist across Paul's chest.

Denise screamed as loud as she could, raising her pepper spray and sending a burst of liquid in the man's face. He didn't even blink, but Paul's eyes swelled shut as some of it hit him.

"Somebody, help!" Denise shouted again, spraying until the container was empty. The man didn't even budge while Paul's face began to turn blue.

She grabbed the silver nitrate next, unloading its contents in four frantic bursts. The man did blink at that, but in apparent surprise. Then he laughed.

"Silver? How interesting."

Denise was out of weapons and the man hadn't loosened his hold by a fraction. Panicked, she balled her fists and flung herself at him - only to fall to the ground a moment later on top of her cousin.

"What's going on out there?" someone from the bar called out.

Denise glanced up. The stranger was gone. A large German shepherd sat a few feet off, its mouth open in a doggy grin. It turned around and ran when a handful of people from the bar came over to them.

"Someone call 911!" Denise exclaimed, noting with horror that Paul wasn't breathing. She placed her mouth over his, blowing hard - and began to choke as she tasted pepper spray.

Coughing and gasping, Denise saw a young man try CPR on Paul and then fall back, choking as well. She pressed her fingers to Paul's throat. Nothing.

Almost a dozen people stood over her, but none of them seemed to be reaching for their cell phones.

"Call a goddamn ambulance," she got out, pounding on Paul's chest and trying to blow into his mouth even though she could hardly breathe herself. "Come on, Paul! Don't do this!"

Through her blurred vision, she saw her cousin's face turning a darker shade of blue. His mouth was slack, his chest motionless under her hands. But Denise continued to pound on his chest, cupping her hands around his mouth to blow into it without her lips coming into contact with more pepper spray.

She didn't stop until the paramedics arrived, seemingly an eternity later. When they pulled her off, Paul still wasn't breathing.

"You're saying the man just...disappeared?"

The police officer couldn't quite keep the disbelief out of his tone. Denise fought the urge to slap him. She didn't know how much more she could take. She'd already had to call her family and tell them this unthinkable news, then grieved with them as they arrived at the hospital, then gave her report to the police. The one they seemed to have such trouble believing.

"As I said, when I looked up, the killer was gone."

"No one at the bar saw anyone out there, ma'am," the officer said for the third time.

Denise's temper snapped. "That's because they were inside when we were attacked. Look, the guy choked my cousin; doesn't Paul have bruises around his neck?"

The officer glanced away. "No, ma'am. The medical examiner hasn't looked at him yet, but the paramedics didn't see any signs of strangulation. They did say they found evidence of cardiac arrest..."

"He's only twenty-five years old!" Denise burst, then stopped. Ice slid up her spine. Who has a heart attack at twenty-three? Paul had asked just hours ago, followed up with a statement she'd summarily dismissed. I think I'm being followed, too.

Now Paul was dead - of an apparent heart attack. Just like Amber and Aunt Rose. Denise knew she hadn't imagined the man who'd been immune to both pepper spray and silver nitrate. The one who'd disappeared in a blink - and the big dog that had come out of nowhere.

Of course, she could relay none of this to the officer. He already looked at her like she was teetering on the crazy end of distraught. It hadn't escaped Denise's notice that when she'd been treated for pepper spray, her blood had also been taken, presumably to check her alcohol levels. She'd already been asked multiple times how much she'd drunk before leaving the bar. It was clear nothing she said, even leaving out mention of the supernatural, would be taken seriously if the medical examiner ruled that Paul had died of a heart attack.

Well, she knew people who'd believe her enough to investigate.

"Can I go home now?" Denise asked.

A flash of relief crossed the officer's face. It only made Denise want to smack him more. "Sure. I can arrange for a squad car to take you."

"I'll call a cab."

He stood, bobbing his head. "Here's my card if you remember anything else."

Denise took it only because wadding it up and throwing it at him would look questionable. "Thank you."

She waited until she was inside her house before she made the call. No need to have the taxi driver talk about how his latest fare had babbled on about a murder by a man who might have turned into a dog. If the police found out she'd said that, she could forget them following up on any leads she gave them, even if they did figure out this was a murder.

On the third ring, however, an automated voice intoned that the number she'd dialed had been disconnected. Denise hung up. That's right, Cat had been moving from place to place because some crazy vampire was stalking her. She had obviously changed her number, too. Was Cat still overseas? How long had it been since Denise last spoke to her? Weeks, maybe.

Next Denise tried the number she had for Bones, Cat's husband, but it, too, was disconnected. Denise dug around her house until she found an address book with the number for Cat's mother. The number was from over a year ago, so no surprise when that was also out of service.

Frustrated, Denise flung the address book on her couch. She'd been avoiding contact with the undead world, but now when she needed someone plugged into it, she didn't have anyone's current number.

There had to be someone she could reach. Denise scrolled through the entries in her cell phone, looking for anyone who had connections to Cat. When she was almost at the end, one name leapt out at her.

Spade. She'd saved Spade's number in her phone a few months ago, because he'd been the one to pick her up the last time she saw Cat.

Denise hesitated. Spade's sculpted features, pale skin, and penetrating stare flashed in her mind. Put Spade in a Calvin Klein ad and women would be tempted to lick the page, but Denise's memory of Spade was irrevocably tied to blood. Especially since the last time she'd seen him, he'd been splattered in it.

She shoved that aside. Someone had murdered Paul, and Spade might be her only link to reaching Cat. Denise pressed "call," praying she didn't hear that chipper monotone telling her the number was no longer in service. Three rings, four...

"Hallo?"

Denise felt light-headed with relief at hearing Spade's distinctive English accent. "Spade, it's Denise. Cat's friend," she added, thinking of how many Denises a centuries-old vampire probably knew. "I don't seem to have Cat's number and...I'm pretty sure some thing murdered my cousin. Maybe both cousins and my aunt, too."

It came out in a babble that sounded nuts even to her. She waited, hearing nothing but her breathing during the pause on the other line.

"This is Spade, isn't it?" she asked, wary. What if she'd hit the wrong number somehow?

His voice flowed back immediately. "Yes, apologies for that. Why don't you tell me what you believe you saw?"

Denise noticed his phrasing, but she was too wired to argue about it. "I saw my cousin murdered by a man who didn't even twitch when I maced him with pepper spray and silver nitrate. Then the next thing I saw, a big damn dog was standing where the man had been, but it ran off, and the police think my twenty-five-year-old cousin died of a heart attack instead of being strangled."

Another silence filled the line. Denise could almost picture Spade frowning as he listened. He scared her, but right now, she was more afraid of whatever had killed Paul.

"Are you still in Fort Worth?" he asked at last

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